Today’s post by Sasha Wasley really resonated with me, as I’m sure it will with other writers. I’ve certainly felt the sting of jealousy and found it hard not to compare myself to other writers, wishing for their writing talent or success.
In today’s post, Sasha articulates the roiling emotions of almost every writer as they watch on while others achieve success about which we can only dream. This post will make you feel like you’re normal again!
‘But all I could see were the ones who appeared to be hitting the bigtime. And all I could do was long for the bigtime myself.’
Sasha Wasley was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia. Her newest book is Dear Banjo, a captivating friends-to-lovers tale of first love and second chances. Dear Banjo is Book 1 in Daughters of the Outback series and book 2, True Blue, will be released in May 2018.
Sasha lives and writes in the Perth Hills with her partner and two daughters, surrounded by dogs, cats and chickens. She also writes mystery, paranormal and young adult novels as S.D. Wasley.
You can find Sasha on her website, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can buy copies of Dear Banjo here. If you’re interested in Sasha’s paranormal and YA novels, you can view her sister site and other books here.
We need to talk about writer jealousy
When I read Tess Woods’ post about imposter syndrome a few weeks back, I was inspired to write about another slightly taboo topic for writers: professional jealousy. I’m going to give you a warts-and-all account of my own struggle with writer envy.
Let me start by telling you an old, quite famous story about professional jealousy in the literary world. This story was told to me recently by Kate Forsyth at the Romance Writers of Australia conference (I may have a few minor details wrong but the essence is accurate).
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an artist and poet from the 1800s. He was a sensitive fellow, deeply stung by criticisms of his work, who lived an impulsive lifestyle of women, art and drugs. He came upon his muse, Elizabeth Siddal, and painted countless artworks with her as his model. He eventually married Elizabeth, but had an affair with the wife of his friend and fellow poet, William Morris. In fact, he spent a ‘summer of love’ with Jane Morris, with the knowledge of her husband, but when Elizabeth found out, she was rather upset. She didn’t live an awful lot longer and Dante felt so guilty when she died that he buried all his poetry with her.
His friend William Morris, in the meantime, suddenly became very successful as a poet. Dante was deeply jealous when William’s poetry drew accolades. After all, Dante had been writing poetry for longer—and he had founded the very artistic movement in which William had climbed to fame. His envy festered and boiled until he did something that still shocks us.
He had his wife’s coffin exhumed so he could get his poetry back and attempt to make a success of it.
Let’s just think about that. He was so envious of his friend’s success that he dug up his wife’s body to recover some works he could publish, believing that he also ought to be recognised as a great poet.
It didn’t answer. He published the poetry and it was met with savage criticism. He published another volume a couple of years later and it was so harshly criticised that he had a mental breakdown over it. He busted up with William and Jane Morris and sank into a morbid state, addicted to chloral hydrate and increasingly mentally unstable. He died several years later, having spent his last days as a recluse.
A cautionary tale? Well, perhaps not. These days, we’re unlikely to impulsively bury our entire works with a departed spouse and then dig them up because we get jealous of a peer’s success. However, we’re just as likely to feel that jealousy.
‘Okay, there’s room for us all to write and publish—but not room for everyone to be bestsellers.’
I’ve met writers who say they don’t get jealous. They say things like, Oh, there’s room for us all in the industry! I’m impressed, filled with admiration, and a little bit dubious. Okay, there’s room for us all to write and publish—but not room for everyone to be bestsellers. And part of working towards success as a writer is picturing yourself in a position of high sales, critical acclaim, making lists, winning awards, amassing a readership, and being invited to events and signings. When you see other people living the dream, it’s only natural to feel a twinge of something like resentment.
Why her and not me?
My book is as good as (or better) than his.
I spent loads of time and money creating buzz around my launch—why didn’t people share and fawn over my release in the same way?
Or it might be self-doubt.
Wow, her book is getting the most amazing responses. She must be an incredible writer.
Look at his book, being picked up for book clubs and highbrow reviews.
Holy crap, what an amazing book! I will never write that well.
This year, I released my first traditionally published paperback, Dear Banjo. I was so thrilled to get the publishing deal, and I did the usual author thing of riding the wave of excitement up to publication date, and then crashing into a kind of anti-climactic depression after release—not because it wasn’t selling well, but because it wasn’t selling like Monica McInerney’s latest, or Liane Moriarty’s latest. It didn’t make a list. And it would be such a long time before my next release! Everywhere I looked, there were authors having amazing releases, hitting lists, going to reprint, getting drooled over by readers, winning awards. It made me gnash my teeth with envy. I scowled at their Facebook posts and obsessed over my sales figures, emailing my publisher for weekly updates. I had tears over my jealousy. I had whole bad days and even weeks over it.
‘Everywhere I looked, there were authors having amazing releases, hitting lists, going to reprint, getting drooled over by readers, winning awards.’
Logically, I knew this was crazy. All I’d ever wanted was to be an author. Now I was an author, and my book was selling quite strongly in major outlets around the country, but I still wasn’t happy. There were plenty of other authors more like myself – releasing a book, doing quite well, and writing the next. But all I could see were the ones who appeared to be hitting the bigtime.
And all I could do was long for the bigtime myself.
The temptation was to stop ‘liking’ the posts of my peers where they announced their success; to stop sharing friends’ new releases (they don’t even need me to share, they’re so damn successful). I wanted to not listen to their radio interviews, not buy their books, not attend their launches. I wanted to stamp my feet like an outraged toddler and shout, ‘NOT FAIR!’
But I didn’t. I liked, I shared, I bought, I listened, I congratulated, and I attended—because I understood that I was feeling insecure and jealous, and quite frankly, being unreasonable. Everything I saw had become about me. Others’ success was about my lack thereof. I was not able to achieve those awards and lists they had hit. My book wasn’t good enough for people to raise to the heavens as a paragon of brilliance. My sales were not good enough for me to immediately become a full time author.
Fortunately, I found the capacity to rein in my insecurities and acknowledge that others’ successes and happiness are not at my expense. Okay, I won’t always make a list or win an award, but there is room for my success, as well as theirs—and there are many pathways to success. Some find a shortcut, others go the long way. I could stop sharing, liking, attending, etcetera, but all that will do is feed my own insecurity. The more I shared and liked and attended and bought, etcetera, etcetera, the more distracted I was from my insecurity. I rose above my jealousy and in doing so, it lost its power. I thoroughly recommend this strategy.
Look, we all in the writing community feel jealous from time to time (sometimes several times a day!). It’s quite normal and human. It’s what we do with it that’s important.
‘Whenever you get jealous or frustrated, remember that you’re a day closer to your dream than you were yesterday.’
Whenever you get jealous or frustrated, remember that you’re a day closer to your dream than you were yesterday, and keep trying. If you think your writing isn’t as good as theirs, enrol in a workshop. If you think your sales are lower than theirs, brainstorm marketing tactics with your publisher. If you think you’ll never get published like them, look at all the authors who don’t get their first deals until they’re past retirement age. Don’t give in to your jealousy because you will become more miserable, and even a bit strange (like Dante digging up his poems).
Rise above. You’ll be happier for it.
The good news is that after all this time, ‘The Sisters’ Song’ will be in book stores in less than two months. It’s hard to believe it’s so close!
If you’d like to be one of the first readers, here’s a list of places you can pre-order it.
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Thank you, Sasha and Louise. This is a brave and honest post that really shares in what it is to be human. I feel pangs of envy, mixed with sadness, that I will never be as strong a writer as those whose novels I love and admire. As a published writer, it feels churlish and boorish to feel this way, but it is a part of being human. Perhaps such feelings compel us to strive. I would love to hear from the point of view of a best selling author. Social media always portrays such a perfect (and enviable) face to success. Is there another lesser known side to it?
Great series, Louise.
I agree with everything you’ve said, Robyn—that the post is brave and honest, that I feel writer envy and am annoyed at myself when I do, and that I use those feelings of jealousy to drive me onwards—I kind of say to myself, ‘I want what they’ve got.’ It works because it stops the jealousy, drives me onwards, and means that I learn from those ahead of me.
I wonder, too, about the pressures on someone who is hugely successful, some of whom have never written another book.
Thank you for your comment today, Robyn. Insightful as always. 🙂
I totally agree Robyn – we all show our shiny successes on social media and fudge the demoralising bits. I love reading a good book but it can be tinged with despair that I’ll never write as well – damned if i’m going to let my jealousy destroy my love of great literature, though.
“I rose above my jealousy and in doing so, it lost its power.” Those are such wise words, Sasha. Thank you for the gift of this post. And thanks once again for providing the avenue for writers to share such posts, Louise. xxxx
Posts like these are my favourites—they show me that I’m not alone and make me feel normal again! I agree, Maureen, it’s a great post! Thanks for reading, as always. 🙂
Thanks Maureen! It’s an ongoing struggle!
Great story on an important topic. Jealousy is so human and we all feel it. I like to distinguish jealousy from envy. Jealousy happens when you admire someone and/or their work and you know it. It stings but you can at least admit to yourself and hopefully let others know too that you think this person and/or their work is great. Envy, on the other hand, is the real worry. Envy is insidious. Most times when people are envious they don’t even know it. They try to kid themselves they’re not envious at all, nor jealous. They do so by telling themselves that the other person’s work is rubbish and that way they don’t have to feel jealous. If you can feel jealous I reckon you’re half way there, and if you can acknowledge it and as you say, Sasha, rise above it, you’re a star in your own right.
For it’s the greatest of compliments to another person that you can feel jealous of them and/or their work, though it becomes hideous if it slips into envy.
Thanks for a terrific and thoughtful journey through your experience, Sasha, which I share and reckon we all share to varying degrees. It helps to know about it. Especially when Louise and I are running neck and neck getting our books published and I find myself looking at her efforts to promote her book and then I look at my own paltry attempts at self promotion and feel that tinge of jealousy that Louise is so good at it. Her book will star, mine will most likely fade. But then I think, good on you, Louise.You’re fantastic at this and all you do in your writing and family life.
I’m in a different horse race: memoir, not fiction, but nevertheless enjoying my own journey.
There’s room for all of us, but you’re right, Sasha, some of us will rise higher in the zeitgeist than others. At least at the time. I think on poor old Dante. We know which writer lives on in history and it’s not William Morris, it’s Dante himself but he’s no longer alive to enjoy the fame. Question is do we write for ourselves, for today, for tomorrow, to leave a legacy, to get recognition now or later, or all the other reasons why writers write? It’s a tough call with its ups and downs, without which it would most likely not be worth it.
Sorry to go on so long but this is a fantastic issue as far as I’m concerned and one that deserves our thinking.
Thank you for your lengthy and deeply honest comment, Lis. Gosh, there’s so much I could say in reply, and I don’t know where to start.
Firstly, I know there’s a distinction between the definitions of jealousy and envy, but I’d not really thought about one being worse than the other. I definitely agree there are two types of jealousy/envy—there’s the normal human one, which we all feel at times, and which we get over; and there’s the other toxic and vengeful kind, in which someone who feels inferior tries to put the other, more successful person down. I think the toxic kind is due to feeling grossly inadequate, worthless and unhappy about yourself, so you hate others who are happy and achieving what you can’t and want them to experience, even momentarily, a glimpse of how bad you feel much of the time.
Secondly, your sentence, ‘Her book will star, mine will most likely fade’ made me feel really sad. Comparison is the worst thing we can do to ourselves—I’ve learnt that from experience! As you say, our books are in completely different genres, and we’re completely different people. Rejoice in your achievements as a memoirist—something I could never do, by the way!
Thirdly, I agree that jealousy/envy is a complex and deep issue, and I, too, could go on about it for days! 🙂
In relation to that comparison of mine, I agree Louise, it’s not helpful to compare but at the moment of writing my response I was speaking from the part of me that allows such thoughts to curdle towards the surface. Other thoughts follow closely behind along the lines you mention. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy Sasha’s post because it allows us to see behind the positive gloss we tend to put on things when in fact we all struggle with our insecurities, especially those of us who dip into the uncertainty of creativity in whatever form it takes, and there are many forms, writing being just one.
It is a great post and it’s generated some good discussion on here!
Best wishes with everything, Lis. 🙂
I hear you! Yes, maybe that’s why envy is considered one of the deadly sins – because it’s rooted in the wish for someone else’s failure. There’s a feeling I get sometimes of relief and camaraderie when another author posts about a big fat editing fail or a nightmare draft, or a flopped event. Then I loathe myself for it. It’s all such an unhealthy cycle and to be honest, my blogpost fell short on the HOW when i suggested rising above. I just keep trying to celebrate with people when they succeed and help when they don’t. Hopefully the peace of mind will come!
Love this post and the comments; thank you all. Two trains of thought come up for me; one from the post itself. I listened to a little post today on Facebook by a professional intuitive, and she wisely reminded me to turn negative self-thoughts into appreciative ones, since all thought chains create neural pathways when repeated enough. Switch negative to positive, ‘fake it till you make it’ (she didn’t say that last bit). The second one arises from Elisabeth’s distinction between jealousy and envy. the latter, the toxic one, is I think the root of attempts to control by belittling or patronising others. I have been on the receiving end of this from a good friend, and always have to remind myself, when it happens, that the root of it is envy, and to consciously feel love and compassion when it happens. It doesn’t necessarily stop the behaviour, but it does help me not dwell on it afterwards and wonder why I am the target of it. Self-awareness is all, and as Lis says, when one is envious, one may not be aware of it, whereas jealousy is a conscious emotion, and can be acknowledged and released. Love to all.
Firstly, thank you for this lovely long response, Christina.
Secondly, yes, there’s always fake it till you make it, and it has its uses! But, to be completely honest with you, when I’m feeling negative, I hate being told to stop feeling how I’m actually feeling, and I can’t ‘switch’ into positive just like that. The thing is, every single one of our feelings happens for a very good reason, including the negative ones. Often that reason is disguised, at least at first. I manage my negative feelings by letting them come and not stopping them, and then I can work out what’s behind them. For me, it’s often a trigger from childhood, and when I accept my feelings as valid and acknowledge them, I find the negative ones tend to disappear.
Lastly, it’s hard not to be hurt when on the receiving end of jealousy. You’re right, and as I wrote in my reply to Lis above, it is the other person’s lack of self-worth and confidence that is the real issue.
Thanks again for your thoughtful comments. 🙂
I actually agree with you about not suppressing negative emotions, but accepting them and not judging them. I think the post I refer to was referring more to those little negative self-thoughts that arise so often. So for me, there are two steps: to recognise that it is just a thought, without judging it, and then to release it and turn my thoughts to gratitude for what is. It’s a subtle line between suppression, acceptance of the negative thought, and appreciation of what it is.
Thanks for your clarification—I might have misunderstood your comment and gone off on a tangent! I think it comes down to doing what works for you—if it works, keep doing it! 🙂
It’s a tough call knowing precisely how to deal with the negative emotions. I’m not good at putting my more destructive emotions in a bubble and letting them float away. I like to blow that bubble up, keep it nice and visible for a few hours or days, and then finally pop it with some therapeutic swearing or banging at my keyboard. I think that’s why I choose to grit my teeth in the presence of my jealousy and simply try to keep congratulating, sharing, liking …
The words I’ve used there are telling, aren’t they? How much of this jealousy would disappear if we weren’t all on social media, watching every achievement and obstacle in each others’ lives!?
Onwards and upwards!
Sasha you’ve addressed the elephant in the room, and you’re right – I think we writers all feel jealousy. But it’s whether we act badly because of it, or whether we recognise it and move past it, that matters.
It always amazes me that successful authors like yourself still feel jealousy, because from my perspective you’ve totally made it! – but I’ve read enough interviews and blog posts to realise that’s very common. Ben Hobson (who wrote ‘To Become a Whale’) wrote on his blog about the shifting of the goal posts that occurs, and I can see how that could happen.
So thank you for being so open about what we’re all feeling from time to time, and for your tips on how to overcome these emotions.
I agree with everything you’ve said here, Fi. I remember Ben’s blog about the shifting goal posts—you think you’ll be satisfied at publication, but then there’s more! As you reach each rung of the ladder, there’s always the next one higher up. I think it’s natural to keep aiming higher, but we do have to be satisfied with our own achievements, too, however meagre they might be compared to others. I forget to do that, too. 🙂
You nailed it – shifting goalposts! Tess’s blogpost on here a month or so ago was cogent on that point.
There’s a line at the end of The Great Gatsby: “No matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . And then one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
When does one fine morning arrive? As a writer, I’m not sure it ever does because we’re always standing at the window waiting for the sun to rise!
I really enjoyed reading this from Sasha. I agree it’s important to keep liking, buying and supporting others even when you’re feeling jealous or feeling like a failure because when the day comes and it’s your time to shine, you would hope they’d do the same for you. An honest, totally relatable post. Loved it.
Yes, you still do all of those things because, really, you want success for your friends and you are happy for them. You just nurse your ‘I-wish-it-was-me’ feelings later when you’re alone.
Louise, precisely! Nursing our hurt and nursing a glass of wine LOL.
You said it Alyssa! Keep pushing the barrow up the hill because eventually, surely, we’ll get to some kind of height!
What a great essay. Thanks so much for sharing Sasha!
I’m thankful to Sasha for writing this, too—it came at just the right time for me! 🙂
I love it when that happens!
Thank you Theresa! xx
I always appreciate any show of vulnerability, and that is perhaps why I have valued this post – and the comments and discussion that it has generated – so much. I am also intrigued at how we continue to compare “our insides” with other people’s “outsides” ie that everyone else seems glossy and shiny, while we feel dull and lack lustre about ourselves – no matter in what context.
From my perspective as a non-author, casual writer, I feel nothing but admiration for those of you who have taken the courageous risk to follow your writing dream, to the extent that, for me, the outcome is secondary. I don’t wish to diminish the end-goal of a successful product; just to recognise that the energy, effort, struggle and love that go into the production all contribute to the colour and complexity of what is produced.
What a beautiful comment, Shahina, and thanks for reminding me that we all need to pat ourselves on the back for the ‘energy, effort, struggle and love’ that have gone into what we produce. I love it when we share our vulnerability, too, because, although it takes courage to do it, it’s so connecting—we realise we’re all really the same.
Shahina What a fantastic way to put it! SO true.
I feel envy all the time! I think it’s completely natural to feel like this – but best not to give in to it like you said. I actually blogged about envy recently hahaha, so this struck a cord!
Milly I would be interested in reading that! Please post the link!
We need to start a hashtag—maybe #jealousandproud or #shoutyourjealousy. 🙂
I’m off to read your post right now, Milly! 🙂
Hahah looks like Louise found it! Please note it’s one of my cat gif posts, so it will make me look like a crazy cat lady: https://millyschmidt.com/2017/10/11/the-nine-different-blogs-that-give-you-blogging-envy/
It’s a great post! 🙂
That is a great post and where were the cat gifs when I wrote my post? Cats say so much without saying a word. 😉
These are good thoughts and I think we’d all love to be a best seller one day! 😄
We’d all like our work recognised, I think. 🙂
I was looking for a reblog button, but your off plat. Nice post though and I hope you have a great week! 🙂
Yes, it’s WordPress, but .org not .com, which means reblogging is a bit more complicated. Thank you for the thought though! 🙂
I definitely hunger for that best seller 😀 But in the meantime I’ll settle for a book people like and a great publisher!
Not only was Sasha’s post honest and relevant – something I bet all writers feel, no matter what stage of the journey you’re at, it was great that she included suggestions on how to handle the jealousy – enrolling in workshops, brainstorming marketing techniques etc. Actions instead of reactions – great advice!
Yes, it’s nice to add the something active and positive we can do about these negative feelings we all feel. 🙂
Wow, a very interesting post. Thank you both for sharing.
It’s so terrible how difficult it is to just feel content and satisfied in our achievements, instead of always comparing ourselves to those around us. It’s like whenever something we work for actually happens, our attention straight away shifts to the next step, instead of ever feeling happy with what we have. I think that’s maybe what then leads to jealousy. I know I’ve felt it too… sigh.
This was really good advice.
And we only compare ourselves to those ahead of us! We’re always, always looking towards the next rung on the ladder, never satisfied with where we’re at, aren’t we? I guess it’s partly human nature, and part of bettering ourselves, but, yes, we should be kinder to ourselves.
Thank you for dropping by, Poppy! 🙂